Essential New Music: Dan Melchior’s “Melpomene”

In ancient Greek mythology, Melpomene is the muse of tragedy. Dan Melchior never spells out what tragedy is on his mind anywhere on this LP; he never utters a word. But it’s reasonable to suppose that his late wife Letha Rodman Melchior, who passed two years ago after a grueling battle with cancer, is the inspiration. Even if you overlook the obvious calamity, this record sounds more like the ones Letha was making just before her death than most of Dan’s. You’ll find no off-handed garage rock or scuffed-up blues here. Instead there are short guitar/piano/organ instrumentals layered with field recordings and subjected to ancient electronic processes. Melpomene sounds like some lost BBC Radiophonic Workshop session that was remixed by King Tubby. The music’s haunting qualities are intensified by the knowledge that to see a ghost would not be cause for fear, but a wish fulfillment unlikely to be granted.

—Bill Meyer